By STEPHAN BISAHA
Kansas News Service
Hybrid learning has become the go-to compromise for Kansas’ largest school districts to get students back in classrooms.
Districts in Lawrence, Topeka, Olathe and elsewhere rotate students between in-person and online lessons. Kids get physical time in front of a teacher without risking crowded classrooms during the pandemic.
But some Kansas teachers say the hybrid model isn’t much better than keeping students online full-time.
The constant shift from the classroom to the screen disrupts learning. Teachers say they have twice the workload while splitting their focus between online and in-person students, giving neither the attention they deserve.
Educators say hybrid makes it easier to help kids struggling the most, but both hybrid and online-only are leading to students falling behind.
Monique Goodeyon loves that students will soon return to her classroom. The high school calculus teacher at Shawnee Mission East got into education to teach students face-to-face, not face-to-screen.
Shawnee Mission went from hybrid learning to full remote around Thanksgiving because of concerns that holiday travel would lead to further coronavirus spikes. Students will return to school and hybrid learning Jan. 26.
But, like other teachers, Goodeyon’s not convinced it’s better for students.
“The kids are not learning as much as they should,” Goodeyon said.
Yes, when students actually sit in Goodeyon’s classroom two days a week, they do better than when they’re on a computer. But she said when those students return to online learning for the other half of the week, they do worse than when they stuck with online-only.
It’s difficult for teachers to give the proper attention to both kids in the classroom and those tuning in via the computer screen. Teachers say the split focus hurts all students.
Instead, Goodeyon spends her class time attending to the kids physically present. Those at home can tune in if they want, but they have their own independent work.
She’s also calculated — math teachers can’t help it — her students get about 90 fewer minutes of instruction time from her a week compared to when the school is in full remote.
“Between remote and hybrid, it is hard to decide which one is better,” Goodeyon said. “The 90 minutes I have them is wonderful. But is that worth them having to learn 90 minutes of material on their own?”
Teachers also say hybrid doubles their workload. They must make one lesson plan for the remote kids and another for those learning in-person that day. Shuffling lessons doesn’t work for a subject like calculus where a student must understand concept A before moving onto concept B.
Educators and experts said hybrid learning does come with a few clear benefits — the largest being intervention.
A teacher can better provide help to struggling students in-person. Educators are also more likely to realize a student even needs help — for both individual lessons and larger problems. Early identification of learning disorders such as dyslexia can prevent problems from snowballing.
It also gives an outside adult a chance to notice signs of problems in the home.
“Teachers are the ones to see a kid come in with a bruise,” said Katharine Strunk, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. “Teachers are the first people to notice when a kid is not OK.”
But teachers say many of those positive learning gains happening inside the classroom begin to disappear once students return to at-home learning. Neither remote or hybrid has kept students from slipping behind where they would be during a normal school year.
“I have no control over their environment,” said Shane Heiman, a third-grade teacher at New York Elementary in Lawrence. “They are becoming more behind because even though I’m providing content for them, there’s still limited ways where I can engage them.”
Blue Valley North High School English teacher Shelly Weir calls hybrid a mixed bag.
A back and forth discussion on Brave New World becomes a slog with half the class divided into squares on a screen.
“It takes the Zoom classroom twice as long to give their discussion because I have to physically call them out,” Weir.
But she’s found success keeping the discussion to just the in-person kids. Those at home get assigned their dystopian novel of choice to read before it’s their turn in the school building.
Weir surveyed her students about whether they preferred hybrid or all remote learning — and a slim majority preferred the remote option.
Her students told her school just didn’t feel like school, especially when your best friend attends on opposite days. Some students did not want to come back because they didn’t feel safe with coronavirus cases so high.
“They said ‘You know what? We know that coronavirus is escalating. Why are you bringing us back?’ ” Weir said.
Despite hybrid’s flaws, more of the state’s largest school districts are adopting the model.
School districts like Blue Valley and Wichita started the school year without a hybrid option — schools would either be all in-person or all remote.
Both districts eventually accepted the hybrid trend. The idea of some students not having any classroom time since March — excluding the elementary students that started the school year in-person — became unbearable for educators and parents.
New research also suggested having kids in school buildings — with students remaining masked and socially distanced — hasn’t led to the massive disease spread educators and health officials worried about over the summer.
Wichita School Board member Ben Blankley thinks hybrid learning is the worst option for teachers and students. But he voted to bring middle and high school students back under hybrid on Jan. 25 anyway.
He said filling classrooms will let the district make the inevitable switch back to full in-person learning swiftly. Hybrid means cafeterias reopen. Security guards come back. Custodians reopen mothballed sections of school buildings.
“Even though it's got more drawbacks than remote, It’s on our way to getting to fully in-person,” Blankley said.
Moving to hybrid for the first time means Wichita North High School business teacher Brent Lewis will have three different sets of students in the same class — students at home on the hybrid schedule, students in-person and students who opted to remain remote full-time.
Lewis said the biggest challenge will be maintaining equity for all three groups. He can’t have the students in front of him collaborate on an involved mock business plan if the online students get left behind. So he’ll start the new semester teaching as if all students were on a computer screen.
“I can’t say for sure what success looks like,” Lewis said. “It’s going to take a lot of learning from what’s working, what’s not working to go beyond treating everyone like they’re remote.”
Lewis thinks he’ll eventually find some benefits to hybrid — but he’ll need the school district’s help to get there.
“We’re professionals,” Lewis said. “We’re going to rise to the challenge. But we’re going to need support.”